THE BLOG

Can Tech Really Fix the Big Problems?

13/08/2015 17:25 BST | Updated 13/08/2016 10:59 BST

I work in an industry - tech - that is disrupting the world.

Technology has changed every aspect of our lives - from how we communicate, work, travel and even date. And no-one doubts that more change is coming as we combine new ideas with technological breakthroughs.

In our sector, we tend to think that tech can solve everything, and many start-ups are making positive societal changes through innovative approaches and business models. But some of the world's most fundamental problems - like poverty, equality, or access to clean water - can't be fixed with an app, or even with a social enterprise or business-led approach. Fundamentally, some issues really do need money.

So how can the tech sector help? Two years ago, two UK start-up founders - Andy McLoughlin (Huddle) and myself (DueDil) - asked each other that question. But although our intentions were good, we didn't have any money - our companies were just getting off the ground. We were well supported and funded, but still a long way from becoming the Bill and Melinda Gates of London's Silicon Roundabout.

That said, we believed in what our companies could become - ideally, major international players. And as a founder, I expect to benefit from DueDil's journey - and if that happens, I want to give something back. I was lucky enough to be born into a supportive family in a very wealthy country; many people throughout the world struggle just to obtain clean water every day.

So Andy and I made a simple pledge; as founders, we would commit to give at least 2% of any future proceeds from our companies - for example, from a sale or stock market flotation - to social causes of our choosing. So although we couldn't give now, we would when we could.

So... so what? Two people promising to give money they haven't made yet towards good causes. Not going to stop world hunger, is it?

Perhaps not. But what we did also do is tell other founders in the tech sector about our promise. And they liked the idea, and they said they'd do it too - and they told their friends as well.

Two years on, and the Founders Pledge has properly taken off. So far, 82 founders and investors across 113 companies - including some of the UK's hottest names, like Zopa, Digital Shadows, Blippar, SwiftKey, Nutmeg, and Farfetch - have taken the pledge. Which means that that if everyone were to sell up today, we'd net more than $45 million for charity.

Obviously, the potential funding is great news for charities. But the pledge also helps in another crucial way. The charity sector is scary for entrepreneurs: it's huge, confusing, and it doesn't operate along business lines - so its rules are very different to what we're used to. This means it's very easy to say "this model's broken" or "I don't know how to get involved". Or just simply, "it's not for me".

The Founders Pledge takes away those excuses by making it easy to engage, simply through a promise. Today the Founders Pledge is run and managed by Founders Forum For Good, a charity that supports entrepreneurs who use technology for social impact. We joined forces in order to scale the initiative and help founders understand how to get involved in philanthropy more effectively. The organisation, which we as trustees are funding ourselves, is led brilliantly by David Goldberg, who has been instrumental in growing the Founders Pledge and getting our message across.

His work is helping convince people across the tech sector globally to make the commitment. But what we're also finding is that founders who have made the pledge are now already becoming more involved with philanthropy, because they are now engaged - far before any money changes hands. Now, they're investigating who they want to back, how to support specific projects or interests, and even how their individual expertise could help make a difference to the world's toughest issues.

One day, I hope to be able to support the causes that are important to me with a substantial donation. But I also hope that the Founders Pledge will help the tech community to be more involved with philanthropy, and that its cumulative impact might just help make the world a better place - for us all.

For more information about the Founders Pledge see: http://thefounderspledge.org